|Political scientist Susan Hyde (center) is shown with members of the delegation from Democracy International, which helped monitor the recent elections in Pakistan. Because of fears of violence, the delegation traveled with security guards at all times.
Yale expert on elections helped to
monitor ‘historic’ vote in
There were expectations that widespread violence would erupt in Pakistan
during the country’s parliamentary election on Feb. 18, but personal
risk was not foremost on the mind of Yale faculty member Susan Hyde when she
arrived in that nation just days before the event.
Most prominent in her thoughts was the question of whether the candidates running
against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s own political party had
any chance of winning in the nationwide election.
The answer to that question — whether the opposition has a shot at winning — is
the one by which the legitimacy and fairness of any election is measured, notes
Hyde, an assistant professor of political science.
Hyde was part of a U.S.-funded, 38-member delegation that traveled to Pakistan
to observe the election and judge its fairness. The delegation was organized
by Democracy International, a Maryland-based consulting firm that fosters democracy
and governance programs worldwide, and was led by former U.S. Congressman Jim
Moody of Wisconsin.
The group was comprised of experts on election processes and Pakistani culture
and politics, among other relevant areas. Hyde was chosen for her expertise on
international election monitoring, electoral fraud and elections in democratizing
Through her affiliation with the Carter Center, a human-rights advocacy organization,
Hyde had previously been an international election observer in Indonesia, Venezuela
and Albania. She also worked with an international observer delegation in Nicaragua
in connection with her own research. Of all of those places, she says, “the
issue of election-day violence was, by far, the biggest concern for Pakistan.”
Tensions in the country had been running high since the December assassination
of former prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Benazir
Bhutto, and in the weeks leading up to the election, the country experienced
suicide car bombings and other violence at political rallies and gatherings.
The atmosphere in Pakistan had been expected to be especially volatile on Feb.
18. Some U.S. non-governmental election monitoring groups, in fact, had chosen
not to send delegations to Pakistan because of security concerns.
While Democracy International had been monitoring the pre-election atmosphere
in Pakistan over the past year, Hyde and the other delegates on her team agreed
to go there on short notice, after another monitoring group withdrew. Her group
was sent for “short-term observation,” which entailed monitoring
events, practices and procedures, as well as the political atmosphere, in the
days leading up to the election. In addition to meeting with candidates and other
officials before the vote, the group’s work entailed visiting polling stations
on election day, observing the tabulation of votes and monitoring the immediate
“Other observers affiliated with Democracy International had already been
assessing the larger framework — issues such as freedom of the media, the
ability to campaign, access to resources by candidates, pre-election violence,
voter registration, freedom of movement and assembly, and other matters that
gauge whether the election process is open and democratic,” explains Hyde. “Our
purpose was to observe the shorter-term process — how campaigns fared in
the few days leading up to the election, the procedures at the polling stations
and the vote tabulation.”
After arriving in Pakistan — where the delegation traveled with security
protection at all times — Hyde and the other Democracy International delegates
attended a number of briefings, at which they were brought up-to-date on the
historical background of Pakistan and its politics, and learned about official
election procedures, among other topics. Hyde also met with representatives from
all of the political parties in the contest, members of Pakistan’s Election
Commission and individuals from election-monitoring groups from Pakistan and
In the nine polling stations in Islamabad she visited with another international
observer on election day, Hyde used a checklist to assess specific procedures
and watch for any irregularities or fraudulent activities.
“Monitors go to polling stations early that day and watch them open, and
we make sure that the ballot boxes are empty and properly secured,” Hyde
says. Once the polling stations opened, she took note of voter turnout and the
accuracy of the voter registry. In addition, she checked whether there were any
unauthorized persons in the polling station and monitored the police presence
outside of the station. Hyde and her team then observed the closing of polling
stations and watched as ballots were hand-counted, twice — a process that
included making sure that the number of ballots were equal to the number of voters.
“Overall, the process that I saw went smoothly,” says Hyde. “While
voter turnout was low in the morning because the fear of violence was very high,
it did increase in the afternoon, when the mood lightened” because the
expectations of major violence did not materialize. She also observed that voter
turnout among women was lower than that of men, and learned that women also registered
to vote in lower numbers.
“At most of the polling stations in Pakistan, men and women are separated
by gender by a screen,” Hyde says. “I was able to walk between the
two areas, making it easy to compare the turnout between men and women.”
Hyde also saw some voters being turned away because their names did not appear
on the voter registry, but acknowledges that “this happens at polling stations
all the time, wherever you go.”
In one polling station, she and other members of her team were almost turned
out during vote tabulation by a police officer who didn’t think they were
allowed to be there, despite their credentials. After some back-and-forth communication
with the police officer and the polling station official, the group was allowed
Hyde, a member of the Yale faculty since 2006, has been studying the role of
internationally monitored elections since her student days, when she first became
puzzled by why government leaders will invite monitors into their countries but
then tamper with the election anyway. Her doctoral dissertation at the University
of California, San Diego, explored the causes and consequences of internationally
monitored elections. She has since written extensively on this topic.
On the basis of her research, Hyde has proposed that international monitors be
randomly assigned to voting sites, as opposed to being sent only to particular
trouble spots, to more accurately assess whether monitoring deters fraud. She
tested the random assignment of monitors in an experiment in Indonesia’s
2004 election. Late last year, Hyde and Yale political science lecturer David
Simon helped prepare a group of Yale students for their own election-monitoring
trip to Kenya over the winter break.
Whether or not international monitoring is always effective in preventing election
tampering, Hyde believes that procedure does serve an important purpose.
“One of the things that any type of non-partisan election monitoring can
do is increase voter confidence in the process,” comments Hyde. “Even
if elections are perfectly administered, if there is a perception that they are
not fair, people will stay home on election day, thinking it is not worth their
being involved in the process.”
While Democracy International, human rights groups and others that have been
monitoring events in Pakistan have reported numerous problems with and flaws
in the country’s Feb. 18 parliamentary election process — including
charges that opposition candidates were arrested and harassed during their election
campaigns — these organizations concur that the balloting and counting
procedures on election day itself were largely conducted legitimately. Hyde agrees.
“The biggest indicator is that the final results of the election allow
a transfer of power between the current government and a different coalition,” says
Hyde, referring to the defeat of candidates in the party supporting Musharraf.
The PPP and Pakistan Muslim League (N) picked up the most parliamentary seats
in the election and have announced that they will form a coalition government.
“For me, it was interesting to be present in a country for a historic election — a
key election in the democratization process in Pakistan, where the potential
for chaos was quite high,” Hyde says. “In the end, all of the parties
accepted the results, and there was no major violence. It was the best possible
— By Susan Gonzalez
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